No breaks for speeders on Alberta's 'death' highway

A provincial prosecutor is putting his foot down on motorists caught speeding on Alberta's Highway 63.

Prosecutor, police crackdown on speeders

A provincial Crown prosecutor is putting his foot down on motorists caught speeding on Alberta's Highway 63.

Alberta Crown prosecutor Dave Hall refuses to negotiate traffic fines. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC News)

"It's the attitude now that everybody thinks they deserve a break," said Crown prosecutor Dave Hall. "It's almost like we put a '10- per-cent Tuesday' sign outside of the court room."  

Traffic court day at Fort Saskatchewan Provincial Courthouse begins like traffic court anywhere else in the province.

A long queue of drivers all holding a summons to appear line up out the courtroom doors waiting for their turn to speak with the prosecutor who routinely reduces the fine and the number of demerits to prevent a time-consuming trial. 

But in this courtroom, each hushed conversation about "extenuating circumstance" ends the same way, with Hall shaking his head.

"People know that they're not going to swing a deal," he said.   

That's exactly what Wayne Harriott is looking for.

The contractor, who moved to Alberta recently for work, was pulled over for going 128 km/h in a 100 km/h zone and it's costing him a day's pay to be in court in the hopes of reducing his fine and demerit deduction.

"It's not fair," he said. "You want people to come here and work? Unreal."

By-the-book approach

Dragsters light up twinned highway

Twinning sections of Highway 63 was supposed to save lives, but police are seeing an alarming trend.

"It's become a 32 kilometer drag strip," said Alberta sheriff Sgt. Mark Handley. "We've had fatals on the twin section already. People are getting absolutely ridiculous with their speed.

"We'll get them at 170, 180, knowing full well that it's going to take us a long time to get turned around and chasing them."

Hall said he's unconcerned by the anger or disappointment over his by-the-book approach. 

"If I was in a popularity contest, running for office maybe I'd have to find another job," he said. 

Hall is kept busy with police doubling their efforts to tag speeders on the busy highway connecting Alberta's oilsands region with the provincial capital.  

The number of speeding tickets issued is five times what it was five years ago, said Alberta Justice.

"On this highway with all the political pressure, media attention and public outcry for the amount of fatalities, we've said enough's enough," said RCMP Const. Kevin Woytas, part of a new integrated traffic unit on the highway.

Woytas has been patrolling this stretch of highway for six years. In his first year, 30 people died on Highway 63. Many of the fatalities involved speeding, he said.

"My first three shifts I had a fatal every night. I take great pride in the fact we've done tremendously in those numbers." 

With "backing from the courts," Woytas thinks his unit is making a difference noting there were only three fatals on the highway last year.

Hall, who spent 36 years as a traffic cop — many of those years as a collision reconstructionist — said that's good news. 

There is "no reason that anybody should go out and see what I've seen."